Monday, September 25, 2006

Week In Review: Playing Out the String


Record for the Week: 3-3 (32 RA, 23 RS)
Overall: 93-62 (Winner, AL East, 10.5 games ahead of Boston)

Player of the Week: Robbie Cano, who should join the batting average leaderboard tonight with enough plate appearances to pro-rate to 501, hit .417/.417/.792 with a couple of dingers and three doubles. Chien Ming Wang pitched seven strong innings en route to his 18th win. Bobby Abreu smacked things up to a .333/.455/.556 tune. Aaron Guiel, trying out for the spare outfielder slot, hit .364/.364/.727 with a homer and a stolen base in limited playing time. Scott Proctor is showing that he's ready for the playoffs with 3.7 scoreless. Quietly, Proctor has a 2.57 ERA since August 1, with 26 strikeouts in 35 innings.

Dregs of the Week: Johnny Damon went 1 for 12 in three games wrapped around a three games off with lacerations on his throwing hand. Jorge Posada (.118/.250/.294) and Melky Cabrera (.158/.238/.211) had weeks to forget, and Alex Rodriguez went 0-12 after being featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated (he went .125/.333/.313 overall). In three games after being activated from the DL, Gary Sheffield didn't do much with bat or glove (.125/.222/.125). More on both of those stories, below.

On the pitching side of the ledger, there are three guys we need a nickname for, given how often they wind up on the dregs side of the ledger. Randy Johnson should simply be nicknamed "Six and Five" given how often his linescore reads, six innings, five runs allowed. Octavio Dotel (10.80 ERA in three appearances) still hasn't come back from his surgery, and Ron Villone (54.00 ERA in two appearances) looks like he must be heading for some surgery of his own. Villone is almost certain to make the postseason roster, despite being unable to retire batters, for more than a month. I'm hoping and praying the Jeff Weaver Principle doesn't come into play.

Story of the Week: Last week was a roadie at the Blue Jays and the Devil Rays, with the Yankees clinching on Wednesday despite losing, in Toronto. Two big players made long-awaited appearances this week--Mariano Rivera taking the mound after some time off for a bad elbow, and Gary Sheffield finally returning to the team. On Friday, the Sandman struck out the side against the Devil Rays, and Sheffield made his debut at first base.

The early returns aren't good. The poor batting you see above wasn't a big deal--it's only three games--although, to be perfectly fair, Sheffield's running out of games to show that he's someone you turn to in the postseason. Sheff's defense, however, isn't ready for prime time. He only committed one error during the weekend, but there was some charitable scoring, and Sheff looked stiff around the bag. It's the little things, like getting a feel for when to cut off the throw from right field (Sheffield committed at least one such mistake on Saturday) that make me wish that Sheffield had a month or two to get ready to field the position, rather than just this next week. That's all the season we got left.

So the Yanks clinched, the Sandman and Sheffield returned, and none of that was the story of the week.

Welcome to Planet A-Rod.

By now, everyone's heard the quotes, from Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci, where the Yankee thirdbaseman gets taken to the woodshed by Joe Torre and Jason Giambi. In case you haven't, the basic story of Verducci's article is that it recounts a series of "interventions" to try to get Alex Rodriguez back on track during his mid-season slump--first by hitting coach Don Mattingly, in June, then by Jason Giambi in August, after the big five-game series the Yanks swept in Boston, and then later in the month by Joe Torre in Seattle, while the third baseman was recovering from a bad upper respiratory bug. For good measure

As Tim Marchman pointed out last week, this isn't the way we're used to things being dealt with in the Yankee clubhouse--Joe usually doesn't give writers a blow-by-blow account of his closed door meetings with players, and the Yankee coaches are usually as quiet as churchmice or else as positive as cheerleaders when it comes to the press. Oh, and Torre doesn't often take sides between his players, at least not publicly. Here he came down firmly behind Giambi and against Rodriguez. Verducci may have amped up the background--and I think all this stuff about "Jeter-Doesn't-Stand-Up-For-A-Rod, Therefore-Jeter-Slams-A-Rod" is B.S.--but he didn't make up the quotes. And neither Torre nor Giambi, nor anyone else quoted has backed away from what they said, or claimed to have been taken out of context.

Wow. What we have here is a professional hit. Lots of us forget that this type of savage communication through the press was a hallmark of the Yankees of the 70's and 80's, before Torre claimed control of the Yankee clubhouse and the press corps that went with it. Now, we have a return to the bad old days, and although I have no inside knowledge, I feel safe speculating that George Steinbrenner must have ordered--or at least sanctioned--the Code Red on Private Rodriguez. This reeks of the Boss's mentality, born from football, that the way you motivate players is by challenge and humiliation.

The theory is, Rodriguez will get mad and suddenly he'll play better. Well, or else he'll be revealed to not have guts and moxie and what have you. As you can see above, the early returns suggest that the "motivation" isn't working. We'll see if he can get his head together before the Division Series.

A few notes:

  • The echo chamber on this story is huge. Mike Vaccaro in the NY Post had one of the loudest distortions of the week, adopting the 24 + 1 meme originated by former Mets GM and current ESPN analyst Steve Phillips. In Sunday's Daily News, Bill Madden blames all things A-Rod on his agent, Scott Boras. A few more retellings, and Verducci's article will actually be seen by some columnists as evidence that Rodriguez was responsible for the Kennedy assassination. Both of them.
  • Now, suddenly, Jason Giambi's a team leader? Can we rewind everybody's commentary to December, 2004? Forget that, May, 2005--you know, when everyone was saying that Giambi should go to the minors or retire--would do. Now these same hypocrites are going to tell us that Giambi's the man in the Yankee clubhouse? Everyone see the connection here? "Give newsmen story, get praised as brave leader."
  • By the way, if I recall correctly, Derek Jeter did the same "Leave it alone, no one wants to talk about that" thing when people were asking him about Giambi, back then. Should teach Rodriguez this comforting lesson: every player is 18 months of good baseball--and a few handy quotes to the beat writers--away from being an indispensable member of the team.
  • There was an interesting piece of news in Verducci's article. I had been curious about what Mattingly was doing while Rodriguez's slump deepened. According to Verducci, Mattingly was on top of things, but Rodriguez blew off the instruction. First time I ever heard that A-Rod was difficult to coach.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Roster Roundup

All right. Last week I had a horrible temptation to start looking at the Yanks' postseason roster candidates, and start handicapping some of the fringe-ier guys. But I put it off until I had the chance to do the whole thing justice. Let's start with some rules and assumptions--the Yanks have to put together a 25 man roster for the playoffs--10-12 pitchers, 13-15 position players. You're going to have at least two catchers, at least one utility guy who can cover the Yanks at each of the infield positions, a backup first baseman, and someone who can "play" centerfield, should anything happen to Johnny Damon. Everyone who is going to play in this thing must be on the 40 man roster. Also, because of non-performance issues (contracts, "chemistry," compromising pictures of manager or coaches) there are people who shouldn't make the roster, who will, and vice-versa.


The Starters (8)--these guys are making the team, as if you didn't know:

Jorge Posada, C
Jason Giambi, 1B/DH
Robinson Cano, 2B
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Derek Jeter, SS
Melky Cabrera, LF
Johnny Damon, CF
Bobby Abreu, RF

'Nuff said. Each of these guys has earned their way onto the squad. Some could play multiple positions--A-Rod could back up short, Cabrera could back up in right and center--but that's not the way Joe Torre uses his players. With the exception of the DH slot, and the possibility of Matsui coming back to play the outfield, not much is going to change here.

Backup Catchers (1):

Sal Fasano--has the job won, mainly due to lack of competition and imagination. Fasano's hitting .143/.217/.286, so you can't really say he "earned" the job with his bat. The Yankees backup catcher is something you only use in case of emergency, so this roster spot is wasted from the get-go.

Wil Nieves--who? Yeah, not in the picture. He hit .259/.298/ the International League.

Craig Wilson--doesn't catch anymore. But if you accept that your backup is just an emergency guy anyway, why not try someone who can give you more than Fasano or Nieves can?

Utility Infield (1 or 2):

Miguel Cairo--pros: he was an effective player two years ago, is a known quantity to the coaching staff, has played all four infield positions this season; cons: what's known about the quantity is bad, hit .229/.269/.299 this season, after hitting .254/.296/.324. That trend line is not going up. Oh, and he's rusty after missing a big chunk of the season with an injury. Nonetheless, he's most likely to be the utility infielder.

Andy Phillips--is a pretty good defensive 1B, and has in the past played 3B and 2B, between Phillips and A-Rod, the entire infield should be covered. Alas, Phillips's defensive reputation at the skill positions is so bad that no-one takes him seriously as a backup--since I haven't seen Phillips play in the minors, I don't know how justified that is. If he's on the roster just as a backup 1B, given all the other potential 1B backups on the roster (Wilson, Sheffield, Guiel), it's likely a waste.

Nick Green--Dark horse choice for this job. Didn't show much in the minors, but he's hit better than Cairo as a Yankee (.254/.312/.408) in a small sample size. Has played all three infield positions (other than 1B). He's had bad games in the field with the Yankees, but seems to have more range than Cairo.

Andy Cannizaro--no chance. Not a prospect, not a big leaguer. Next!

Backup Outfielders/DH (2-5):

(Good Bets--both of these guys likely make the roster)

Hideki Matsui--Hit this week, looks good with the bat after the long layoff. It's 99% he makes the team. Big question whether he will be able to play the field before the end of the season--if not, that's a spot that the Yankees use up on a DH/pinch hitter.

Bernie Williams--he's got a 95% chance of making the roster. Can "play" all three outfield slots, but isn't a defensive asset at any of them. A .281/.334/.434 performance isn't that bad for a pinch hitter, but that's really all he does for your club.

(And one from column B. Maybe.)

Aaron Guiel--He's got a decent bat, he can backup center...and he probably doesn't make a roster that has Bernie Williams on it.

Craig Wilson--yeah, the same guy from our backup C discussion. His Sioux name is "Bats Against Lefties." He's not a defensive replacement at first, which is a role Torre tried to shoehorn him into.

Kevin Thompson--my sentimental favorite. I like Thompson more than I should--to me, he's the kind of role player you should have on your playoff roster, able to do little useful things in support of the team, rather than having an expensive player whose talents are greater, but less versatile. Who's a pinch-runner on this ballclub? None of the utility infield types are actually fast, neither are the two backup OFs above. What about a defensive replacement in the outfield? Thompson could fill those roles.

Gary Sheffield--the wild card. He hasn't stepped to the bat yet, much less shown us his skillz at first. If his bat shows signs of life, Sheff could make the roster, or he could skip the ALDS and be on the roster if the Yanks advance to the League Championship. He doesn't have much time to show off his wares, just under two weeks. If Sheff makes it onto the roster, Joe will be juggling players and making assessments during the playoffs.


Starting Pitchers (4 or 5):

Mike Mussina, RHP
Chien Ming Wang, RHP
Randy Johnson, LHP

The top three are no questions, asked, no guilt involved, your 1-3 starters. Each has had moments of brilliance this season; Mussina has been the most consistent, but also the one who has been injured. No telling which Johnson answers the bell in the postseason.

Jaret Wright, RHP
Corey Lidle, RHP

The competition for the fourth spot is between two veteran, low-strikeout, six-inning pitchers. Both Lidle and Wright have had good moments this season, but either of them can also be out of the game by the third inning, with your team down 6-0. One of them has to make it, the smart bet is that both of them do make it. If they both make it, either the Yanks go with a five-man playoff rotation (ugh) or Lidle goes to the pen as a long man.

Relievers (5-7):

Mariano Rivera, RHP
Scott Proctor, RHP
Mike Myers, LHP

These three can only be kept off the roster by their health. If the Yanks head into October without Rivera, they might as well pick the rest of the names out of a hat. Proctor is probably the second most reliable pitcher in the pen, particularly when Torre remembers he doesn't have to pitch him every day. Mike Myers' new ad campaign--"He's not just for lefties anymore!"(tm)-- has run into a bit of reality in a few extended appearances against all comers lately. Still, he's the best thing going in this bullpen to get out a difficult lefty bat.

(Not on the Bubble, But Maybe Should Be)

Kyle Farnsworth, RHP--perhaps the most frustrating pitcher in baseball. Great stuff, but pitches bone-stupid. Worst of all, he's a hothouse flower, with an amazing number of things that restrict his usage--can't pitch more than one inning, can't pitch back-to-back days. He's on the potseason roster, but with all his limitations, Farnsworth looks better on paper and in the scouting reports than he is in reality.

Ron Villone, LHP--hasn't been effective since mid-August. He's allowed at least one run to score in each of his September appearances. Barring a miracle cure, does that sound like a pitcher you want to call in from the bullpen in October?

(Should Make the Team, But No Guarantees)

Brian Bruney, RHP--has control issues, but he also cooks with gas. Small sample size warnings abound, but he looks like the pitcher the Yanks thought they were getting with Farnsworth. Usage suggests that Joe Torre is starting to like him, too.

Darrell Rasner, RHP--between him and Karstens, one of them should make the team as a swingman. I hope it's Rasner. Rasner's got a prospect pedigree, he works down in the zone, and he has a nice curve. I'd probably take him ahead of Lidle, too, but would Joe Torre?

(Could Make It, But Shouldn't)

Jeff Karstens, RHP--a/k/a Scary Fly Ball Pitcher. His ground-out/fly-out ratio in the majors was 0.61, which would be good for second among ERA qualifiers if Karstens kept it up. He's allowed 5 homers in less than 29 innings. Pass.

Jose Veras, RHP--good track record in the minors (2.41 ERA, 21 Sv, 68 K in 59.7 IP at Columbus); but he's only gotten five innings in the bigs. Got the save by default in last night's game, would need to get many more innings in the next week and a half to be considered.

Octavio Dotel, RHP--the Great Experiment is a failure. It takes Tommy John guys time to come back, usually their command is the last thing that returns. If I recall correctly, according to Will Carroll, this is because the surgery messes with the pitcher's sense of proprioreception--the sense that tells you where you where your body parts are, and enables you to touch your nose with your finger, even when your eyes are closed. I hope the Yanks re-sign Dotel on the cheap, and give him a shot at a job next year. But this year, he can't get anyone out.

(Very, Very, Long Shots)

Sean Henn, LHP--probably should be getting a better look, considering how badly Villone has pitched. Henn's minor league peripherals suck, and he doesn't have a track record of success in the big leagues. There's no time to see if he can do the job, now.

TJ Beam, RHP--Theodore Lester Beam had a great minor league season (a combined 1.22 ERA in 73.7 IP between Trenton and Columbus) but a far less distinguished time in his major league try-outs (9.60 ERA in 15 IP). Maybe next year. Maybe.

So where does all this leave us? Here's the roster I think the Yankees will take into the ALDS:

Position Players (13)

Jorge Posada, C
Jason Giambi, 1B/DH
Robinson Cano, 2B
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Derek Jeter, SS
Melky Cabrera, LF
Johnny Damon, CF
Bobby Abreu, RF
Hideki Matsui, LF/DH
Bernie Williams OF/DH
Sal Fasano, C
Miguel Cairo, IF
Andy Phillips, 1B

Pitchers (12)

Mike Mussina, RHP
Chien Ming Wang, RHP
Randy Johnson, LHP
Jaret Wright, RHP
Corey Lidle, RHP
Mariano Rivera, RHP
Scott Proctor, RHP
Mike Myers, LHP
Kyle Farnsworth, RHP
Ron Villone, LHP
Brian Bruney, RHP
Darrell Rasner, RHP

NOTES: Again, the great Wild Card is Sheffield, who could elbow his way onto the roster, maybe at the expense of Phillips or Rasner. Green should be making this roster over Cairo, but I think that so long as Miguel can convince Torre he's healthy, loyalty will trump performance. Craig Wilson probably should be getting a better look in the time remaining, and they need to try Matsui in the outfield, and Sheffield at first. The Yanks should also go with fewer pitchers than I have above, but the team has a history of sacrificing the bench to put extra arms on the roster.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Week In Review: Magic Number Four


Record for the Week
: 5-3 (39 RA, 52 RS)
Overall: (90-59, 9.5 games ahead of Boston, 11 games ahead of Toronto)

In Summary: The week, which started on a roll, ended with a stumble. The chance for the Yanks to celebrate victory on their home turf, in front of their despised rivals, was passed when the Yanks lost 3 of 4 against the Boston Red Sox in the double double headers this weekend. Still, 5-3 is a pretty good week, and the Yankees find themselves four victories away from their ninth straight division title. In spite of handily outscoring their opponents, the Yanks experienced a power outage this week, with only six homers and a .412 slugging percentage. I know, cry me a river. Let's see the awards:

Player of the Week: Robbie Cano drove in 14 runs on the week, on the strength of a .321/.333/.679 week, hitting two homers and four doubles. He's the player of the week. Close runners-up are Alex Rodriguez (.375/.467/.625, 2 HR) and Hideki Matsui (.389/.478/.556). Matsui's return is the feel-good story of the week, with Godzilla going 4-4--all singles, with a walk--in his return game on Tuesday. An even better sign of recovery was Hideki blasting a big homer on Thursday, since one of the big short-term effects of wrist injuries is usually a loss of power. The homer was Matsui's only extra-base hit on the week.

On the pitchers' side, Mike Mussina had a good week, allowing only two runs in two starts, 12 1/3 innings with one walk and 12 strikeouts. Brian Bruney showed some good stuff in four relief appearances, tossing five innings of one-hit ball, and marking up nine strikeouts in the process. He did walk in a run on Saturday, which was charged to Ron Villone. More about that below.

Dregs of the Week: Ron Villone's gotten some rest--between the Kansas City series (9/4) and this weekend's Boston action (9/16) Villone only pitched once (against the Orioles on 9/10). It doesn't seem to have done any good. He came into Chien Ming Wang's start on Saturday with a man on second and no outs, and got out of the situation handily. But in the seventh, he lost control, walking two men with one out, leaving Brian Bruney in a tough situation. Then in the Sunday's day game, Villone was brought in to pitch the seventh inning of a tie game after the Yanks got a quality start from Jaret Wright (6 IP, 2 solo homers allowed). Here he melted down completely, allowing two two-out, two-run doubles to Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis, and the Yankees never recovered.

Sorry for all the detail there, since it's not like this is the only bad performance the Yankees saw this week. Octavio Dotel got beat down while trying to close out the Yanks' blowout win against the D-Rays on Tuesday; Randy Johnson pitched ugly twice in the week, picking his 17th win against the Orioles on Monday, despite allowing five runs in six innings. He wasn't even able to match that poor performance against the Red Sox. On offense, Aaron Guiel went a punchless 3-13 on the week, and Derek Jeter struggled on the tail end of a 25 game hitting streak, with a .250/.344/.250 week. Still managed to lead the team with nine runs scored.

The feature on the Yanks' roster heading to the postseason will have to wait, but could be up as soon as tonight. Next up with the Yanks? A three-game set in Toronto, where they can, at the very least, eliminate the Blue Jays, and possibly win the division.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Double-Up, Clip-On, Clip-Off

A few notes from rainy New York City:

Double, Double: Since the Yanks already had a doubleheader scheduled for Saturday, tonight's game will have to be made up on Sunday afternoon. I've got tickets for Sunday night's ESPN game, and I'm sure that with, four Yanks/Red Sox games in less than 36 hours, the Stadium will be experiencing rivalry fatigue.

Hole in Ya Sox: It's a shame, but I expect that David Ortiz will get some harsh treatment from Yankee fans over his MVP comments of last week. Other than those comments, Ortiz has been a class act in the rivalry, and he is having an amazing season. Apparently, this series will not feature the Red Sox young closer, Jon Papelbon, who's been shut down for the season.

Wet Kitty: Tonight's rainout washes out Jim Kaat's broadcasting finale, an anticlimactic end to 50 years in baseball. Here's hoping that Kaat comes out to one of the games on Satuday or Sunday, so that the fans get the chance to say thanks, and so that YES can give him the sendoff he deserves.

Good-bye Columbus: The Columbus Clippers will no longer be the Yankees' AAA team after this season. Apparently, the team wants to move their AAA operation closer to the NY Metro area, for all those times when the Yanks have to summon a minor leaguer for emergency duty. I'd love to see the Yanks field a high-level team nearby, the way it was when their top farm team was in Newark. The rumor is that the Yanks might be looking at the Phillies' old AAA affiliate in Scranton, PA.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

March in September

In a Joel Sherman's article today describing Bernie Williams' discomfort with having no set role on the roster, Sherman hits upon the precise metaphor for the moment:
BERNIE Williams sought out Joe Torre yesterday to ask his manager if here - less than three weeks until Game 1 of the playoffs - the Yankee manager could explain his role.

Torre could not. He told Williams that, in essence, this is spring training all over again and that he is trying to determine what he has in Hideki Matsui and, probably soon, Gary Sheffield. Can they hit? Can they play the field? Are they worthy of regular play and/or a postseason roster spot?

But the process is about more than the veterans, Williams, Matsui, and Sheffield. It's about the decision of who gets to be the utility infielder for this squad. Who are the relievers at the back end of the bullpen? Who starts Game 4 of a playoff series? How many outfielders can the Yanks carry with them into the post season?

By my count, there are sixteen Yankees who are, or should be, guaranteed roster spots, if they stay healthy. You have the eight every day position players. You have three starters, you have five relievers. That leaves you seven spots, some of them taken before you start: Sal Fasano is going to be the backup catcher--there's no one else to do the job; one of Jaret Wright and Corey Lidle is certain to be on the pitching staff, most likely both; and a roster spot will be used up on either Nick Green or Miguel Cairo. Still, that means that a decent number of spots--very decent, if you consider how these things usually go with the Yanks--are up for grabs in September. People are playing to try to get a shot at October.

Tonight, for example, was a try-out for Jeff Karstens and Darrell Rasner. Rasner came into the game in the sixth, with the game tied at four, all earned runs against Karstens. Karstens was touched up for two homers by Rocco Baldelli in his five innings of work. Rasner pitched four scoreless to finish the game and get the win. If there's a spot open in the Yankees' organizational chart for "playoff swingman," then Rasner's looking a bit better today, Karstens a bit worse. Hideki Matsui, after proving he was still alive and kicking earlier in the week by going 4-4 with 4 singles, showed evidence of having a bit of pop in his swing with a homer in the second inning. Kevin Thompson, a guy I like way more than anyone in the Yankee organization seems to, got a rare start and went 2-4 with a double and a run scored.

The day before, Corey Lidle's place in the roster spot game became a little more unsteady, while Brian Bruney's outlook got better. I was going to do a rundown of the competitors but I think I'll wait for the week in review. But as you watch these last games of the year, just remember, some of these guys are running out of a chance to make a good impression. More about this later.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Week In Review: Mo Rest Needed

Record for the Week: 4-2 (28 RA, 36 RS)
Overall: 85-56 (1st Place, 10 games ahead of Boston)

Player of the Week: Randy Johnson. Seven one-hit innings are a feat, even if they came against Kansas City. On the pitching side of the ledger, Chien Ming Wang was 1-0 with a 2.77 ERA in 13 innings last week. On the hitters' side of the ledger, Jorge Posada hit .421/.450/.947 for the week, with a team-leading 3 homers and 9 RBI. Robinson Cano .435/.480/.696 and Derek Jeter .407/.393/.630 also had an outstanding time against the Royals and Orioles, each with three doubles and one homer.

Dregs of the Week: Cory Lidle needed some extra ice cream this week, giving up six runs in less than two innings. Ron Villone continues to be ineffective, surrendering three runs over a single inning's work this week; and Kyle Farnsworth allowed two homers in just two innings last week. Bobby Abreu was in a bit of a rut last week, .167/.304/.222; in limited playing time Jason Giambi was feeling the effects of a bad wrist (.091/.286/.182) and Bernie Williams (.143/.200/.143) had a week to forget.

Story of the Week: Mariano Rivera took the week off, and the Yankees--playing non-contenders and not worried about their division lead--survived. The thing now is to make sure the Sandman and his teammates are ready for October. With not much grist for a cohesive essay, we'll just read off some headlines, and quick thoughts Old WTDB-style:

You Stay Classy, David Ortiz!

Ortiz Raps HR, MVP Voting (Boston Globe--Gordon Edes)

Now, I've always treated Big Papi with the utmost respect. Ever since he left Minnesota, he's had a reputation as a clubhouse leader and a good guy. Despite the fact that he kills my team, I like him. That's why, when I read this article, I figure that he made a mistake--probably one fueled by a reporter working hard to get the most salacious angle possible. Not a mistake believing that he's a legit MVP candidate, despite the Red Sox dramatic fall from grace, not even a mistake thinking that he's a better MVP candidate than Derek Jeter. Anyone with 50 homers and 127 RBI is an MVP candidate. I have Jeter a bit ahead of Ortiz, and (as I revealed in Today's GotW) Joe Mauer ahead of them both. But that doesn't matter. Ortiz shouldn't feel ashamed of wanting the award or thinking that he's worthy.

No, the problem is that, in trying to put down Jeter, Ortiz took a giant, steaming dump on his teammates. "Let him try to do it in this lineup"? That's gall--the Boston lineup has put the second-most baserunners in the AL on base in front of Big Papi. (Who comes up with the most runners on? A-Rod, of course.) He sees strikes in clutch situations because he has perhaps the best all-around hitter in the league, Manny Ramirez, batting behind him. The next time Ortiz wants to talk to reporters about his high RBI totals, he should show some appreciation for all the other players on his team who make that possible.

Jeter, who was adept at handling New York's muckraking press while Ortiz was still in the Florida State League, had the perfect response to this bunk: "I don't have to do it in his lineup. I'm not thinking about the MVP right now. We're thinking about winning a division. We've still got something to play for." No mention of the fact that the division Jeets is thinking about winning is Ortiz's division. No bragging about his stats. No "count the rings." Just a curt "let me get back to work."

UPDATE: Reportedly, Ortiz has straightened things out with Jeter. It's not Jeter he should be worrying about, it's his teammates. While he can say that his comments about the MVP and Jeter were taken out of context--some of those quotes did seem a little strange--I doubt there's any context in which "Let him try to do it in this lineup" is complementary to his fellow Red Sox, who not only toil to make him look good in the lineup, but who also have to take the field to help the team win.

You Want Me On That Green Monster! You Need Me On That Green Monster!

You Don't Know Jack (New York Magazine--Logan Hill)

You can cast a Yankee fan as a Boston mobster, but you can't make him wear a Red Sox lid. I thought Jack Nicholson was pretty damn cool before this mini-profile, now I think he should found his own political party. I'm also pretty excited to see The Departed, since it's Scorcese, and since some scenes for the movie were shot on my block.

Not knowing how serious a fan Nicholson was--and having just recently seen One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest for the first time in 20 or so years--I wonder if the scene where McMurphy makes up the play-by-play of Game 2 of the 1963 World Series was scripted, or if Jack's inner Yankee fan took over, and he ad-libbed the story of the Yanks whuppin' Koufax.

Anyone out there know?

But Do They Have Cannolis?

Rizzuto Fights On In Latest Battle (NY Post--Kevin Kernan)

Hat tip to Repoz over at BTF, pointing out this article about the Scooter, who's dealing with some serious health problems, but who still seems to be the life of the party, even in a rehab center. Rizzuto is my favorite Yankee announcer, ever, and possibly my favorite TV announcer, period. Simply the best. He didn't have the best voice, he wasn't the most knowledgeable or the most organized. He wasn't smooth. He was--and I presume, still is--an unapologetic homer.

But all these traits, which would lead a person to think that Scooter was an unprofessional dolt, actually stood to his favor. What Rizzuto brought to the table--and so many other announcers don't--is a sense of joy about the game. Year after year, through thousands of games he called, Rizzuto always made you feel like he was happy to be at the ballpark, and that you should be happy to be watching the ballgame. His job wasn't to educate, or to preach, or to analyze. His job was to entertain, and to remind you that baseball is fun. What a concept.

So here's wishing a speedy recovery to ol' number 10. Old Timer's day isn't the same without you, and don't even get me started about the broadcast booth...

Bye Bye, Kitty

Kaat's Meow (NY Daily News--Bob Raissman)

Apparently, Friday is Jim Kaat's last turn behind the mike for the YES Network. As I said in an email when I first noticed this story, I think Kaat's the best thing about the Yankees' broadcasts, a nice combination of broadcasting skills, with the independence to say critical things about the organization or the players, on occasion, and to butt heads with some of his more pompous booth-mates. Al Leiter shows the potential to replace Kitty's insight--and the ability to occasionally pop Michael Kay's bubble, when Kay gets too full of himself--but Leiter's announcing skills aren't yet to the point where he can consistently stand toe-to-toe with someone like Kay, or like Murcer can sometimes be. Kaat will definitely be missed.

By the way, am I the only one that finds Raissman's attitudes about youth sports (see the bottom of the article, in his "Dweeb of the Week" section) too stupid to be believed? An idiot goes berzerk in a youth football game, and we should supposedly ban Little League, or adult participation in Little League (no coaches, parents, or spectators, we suppose), or something like that. That's logical...

Saturday, September 09, 2006

And the Hits Keep On Coming

...Against Cory Lidle last night. Lidle got raked by Baltimore, to the tune of six hits, a walk, and six runs, and didn't get out of the second inning. He allowed a homer to Melvin Mora in the first, then saw the runners he left on base plated by Jay Gibbons, who bombed a homer against Jose Veras.

Meanwhile, the Yanks couldn't really touch Erik Bedard. Jason Giambi, still suffering from a wrist (or is it hand?) injury, took an o-fer three. Bobby Abreu also took an o-fer, with a couple of strikeouts to remind us that he's the only Yankee who's been striking out at a higher rate than A-Rod. Mariano Rivera, who'd been expecting to test his sore pitching elbow last night, didn't, and now it's been revealed that Mike Mussina's shoulder is hurting.

Ugh. At least it's September, with the expanded rosters, and the Red Sox are nine games in the rear-view mirror. The Yanks' primary preoccupation has to be their health. At least they have the leisure to sit Mariano, and Moose, and Giambi, in the hopes that they can answer the call less than a month from now.


It was a long four-day week here on the home front. While I wasn't feeding the Weblog, I did contribute a few more pieces at Baseball Prospectus. Early in the week I made my scheduled Game of the Week stop at St. Louis, where Albert Pujols put some three-homer hurt on Pittsburgh Pirates. I feel protective of the Pirates, as for a year and a half I was Prospectus's de facto Pirates beat writer, first with Prospectus Triple Play, before that got canceled, and then with Prospectus Notebook, before we got put on hiatus. Still, it was very hard not to root for Albert to hit a fourth homer, to make it into the record books. The guy is simply phenomenal.

Then, on Wednesday, I happened to be recording the Diamnodbacks-Marlins game on a reader's request, not intending to actually write another article. But, as you may have heard, this little game turned out to be the first no hitter in the major leagues since Randy Johnson did the feat in 2004 for Arizona. So I did a special edition Game of the Week, in which I expressed relief over the end of the Baseball Prospectus Mailing List Curse:

Juan Cruz takes over for the Snakes, walking Dan Uggla before striking out the side. At some point during the last half-inning, the call went out over BP’s internal mailing list, the heads up to tune into this game. This is big, on account of the BP mail system curse.

All right, let me back up. We here at Baseball Prospectus are men and women of science. We don’t believe, without evidence to back it up, in stuff like ghosts, yetis, team chemistry, or the Loch Ness Monster. However, there hasn’t been a no-hitter in more than two years, since Randy Johnson threw a perfect game for the Diamondbacks against the Atlanta Braves. Since May, 2004, countless people on the mailing list have sent in alerts of no-hitters in progress to BP’s authors and contributors. By the time anyone changes channels to watch, it’s usually just in time to see a squib dribble through the infield, or a flare fall in front of a right fielder.

The idea that Destiny is on the BP internal mailing list--and is willing to punish any mention of a no-hitter--is a risible one. The no-hitter drought is a fluke, much in the same way that no-hitters themselves are highly subject to chance. But it doesn’t take all that much frustration to make people start joking about jinxes, and eventually, it stops being funny. By Monday, when the Curse claimed Ramon Ortiz’s no-hit bid against the Cardinals, no one was laughing. It’s time to see a no-hitter again.

I couldn't go into it in a pay article, but I felt a little more than I let on about the Curse. I'd got into that thing where I wondered if maybe I was the jinx. After all, the Curse didn't really seem to get going until I joined BP's internal mailing list (it had existed for quite some time prior to the drought, so I wondered if maybe this wasn't a problem before I came along). The other thing was, the drought was actually longer for me than for most, because I was out of the country when Johnson threw his perfect game, on May 18, 2004. As some of you might remember, if you've followed the blog for that long, when I returned, I saw Tom Glavine's bid at a perfect game foiled, and then I learned that Doug Pappas was dead. For me, that was when the no-hitter drought began, and as I was writing about Anibal Sanchez's no-hitter, I realized that all of these things had become interrelated in my mind. At the time, it struck me as strange that I learned about Doug's death while watching the Mets--Pappas was a Mets fan, and I think he would have loved to see this year's team.

Let's just leave it by saying that I was glad to see the no-hitter drought end.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Week In Review: Midwest in the Bronx

Record for the Week: 4-2 (17 RA, 30 RS)
Overall: 81-54 (9 games ahead of Boston, 11 ahead of Toronto)

Player of the Week: Let's see--hit .375/.400/1.042 for the week, with a team-leading 5 homers and 11 RBI...yeah, Alex Rodriguez is the player of the week, no bones about it. My older brother and I gave up our tickets for yesterday's game to Brother T, and our Yankee-Brother-by-Another-Mother Kenny. Apparently, when Alex came up with a 5-1 lead, Kenny told T (and obviously, I'm paraphrasing): "You watch, he's gonna hit a home run, here. Heck, he'll hit another one next time up, if the score's not close." So said Kenny, and so it happened, with A-Rod's two homers running up the score en route to a 10-1 victory.

Fair enough. Rodriguez has had a poor season (by his standards) and he's the player that fans love to hate. Other than having a Reggie Jackson-in-1978 postseason, complete with a three or four homer barrage in the World Series, I don't know if that's ever going to change. No disrespect to Brother K, but if Alex ever hit four jacks in a Series game, everyone would probably complain that the last three came "when the pressure's off."

Back to the awards, the Captain was a strong runner-up this week, with a blistering .476/.593/.619 homestand. Bobby Abreu kept doing his thing--shockingly, no walks but a .381/.381/.571 week, with four doubles and five steals. Last week, we lambasted the Yankees' relievers as a unit, this week we praise the starters as a unit: the Yankees got starts from six different pitchers this week, and received five quality starts. They likely would have received a sixth QS if Randy Johnson hadn't gone long to preserve the bullpen on Thursday. Chien Ming Wang and Cory Lidle didn't allow a run in their appearances, unheralded types Jeff Karstens and Darrell Rasner were good, and much-maligned Jaret Wright was effective. All told, the starters pitched 41 innings over six games, allowing nine runs, a cumulative 1.98 ERA.

Dregs of the Week: I'm sick of complaining about overworked Scott Proctor and Ron Villone, who combined, gave up almost as many runs (7) as all six starters did last week, in only four innings pitched. Dregs more properly goes to Jason Giambi, who hit .067/.250/.067 on the week. The de facto platoon of Bernie Williams (.182/.250/.182) and Aaron Guiel (.000/.231/.000) ate up 21 at bats last week. Johnny Damon continued his performance sine wave with a down week (.269/.296/.346).

Story of the Week: Writing a week in review, followed by a month in review, and a week in review again, "big picture" stories are a bit hard to come by. It was good to see the team re-establish itself against two of the three AL Central powers, after dropping a few games on the road to them during the August Marathon. Over the past month--the Post-Abreu period--the Yanks have faced four of the five teams most likely to make the playoffs in the AL: in reverse order, the Angels, the White Sox, the Twins and the Tigers. Only the Oakland A's are missing. The team with the slimmest chance of making the playoffs, the Angels, have played the Yanks the toughest of this crowd (4-6). The White Sox pitching is no longer as scary as it used to be, but they rake like nobody's business. Still, the Yanks have matched up well against Ozzie Guillen's guys (4-2). The Twins, who should be the scariest team against the Yanks on paper, have been manageable in the two team's face-to-face confrontations (3-3). Still, if the team can send out Santana and Liriano in a short series, they're instantly frightening. The Tigers are the best team in the league, record-wise, but the Yankees have manhandled them face-to-face (5-2). The Oakland A's, meanwhile, have a 6-3 record against the Bombers, largely on the strength of a whopping 13 unearned runs the A's have collected against the Yanks.

The good news is, the Yanks seem unlikely to face an AL West team in the Division Series. They're more likely to face an opponent from the friendlier midwest.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Month in Review: August, 2006

Record for the Month: 18-12 (138 RA, 175 RS)
Overall: 79-53 (1st Place, 8 games ahead of Boston)

Player of the Month: Here's where I wish that Baseball Prospectus had monthly splits on their advanced statistics. Which month is more valuable--Jason Giambi's where he batted .311/.476/.649 with six homers, seven doubles, and 25 RBI over 103 PA, mostly as a DH; or Johnny Damon's, who batted .305/.369/.625 in 141 PA, with eight doubles, 23 RBI, and a team-leading nine homers, three triples, and 27 runs scored, while playing mostly in center field. As Jack Nicholson said in Prizzi's Honor, "Which one a deze?"

Meanwhile, although the quest for honors is between those two--to me, the playing time and positional difficulty edges tilt things in favor of Damon, but I'd be interested in hearing counter-arguments--there were a number of other noteworthy performances during the Dog Days. Robbie Cano hit .351/.373/.598 on the month, with 12 doubles and 23 RBI.
New acquisition Bobby Abreu was always on base in August, to the tune of a .357/.460/.496 line. Mariano Rivera served up only three runs in 14 2/3 innings last month, and Chien Ming Wang was a rock, going 4-1 with four quality starts and a 3.23 ERA for the month.

Dregs of the Month: Among the Yanks' new acquisitions, Craig Wilson fell into a Andy Phillips-like playing pattern, with an Andy Phillips performance, .244/.280/.410. He's going to need to get those numbers up if he hopes to have anything more than a platoon role on this roster. Jorge Posada had a miserable month with the bat, .225/.304/.404. If Wilson was able to don the tools of ignorance a bit over the next month it would probably give Posada a needed breather, because backup catcher Sal Fasano hasn't been everything promised with the bat (.125/.160/.250, 3 doubles in 24 AB)--even though he has revolutionized the Bombers' facial hair fashions.

Things get a little uglier on the pitching side. The bullpen tandem of Ron Villone (40 baserunners and a 6.04 ERA in 22 1/3 innings of relief) and Kyle Farnsworth (6.23 ERA in 8 2/3 innings) have been beat up. Farnsworth might be showing the Yanks why he's been with four teams over the last 24 months--he's a frustrating pitcher, unreliable and fragile. Villone started the season as Joe Torre's undiscovered pitcher, and has grown to be his favorite toy, after Everyday Scottie Proctor. Here are his monthly innings totals: April--9, May--12.7, June--13.3, July--17.0, August--22.3. So Villone pitched more last month than he did in April and May, combined. Any surprise that his performance has suffered?

Story of the Month: The Yanks came into August one game back of the Red Sox, 61-41. They come into September eight games up, despite having played only good-but-not-great .600 ball during the month. What gives?

The Yankees' story of this month, really, is the collapse of the Red Sox. Generally speaking, I'm not much into schadenfreude, so, aside from the five games the Yanks took from the Red Sox, I haven't taken much pleasure from the Bostons' 9-21 performance in August. And it's with good reason--the Red Sox's slide has come on the heels of injury and misfortune that strays off the field and into the real world. David Ortiz has suffered an irregular heartbeat since mid-month, and rookie Jon Lester just discovered that the back pain that had plagued him this month is the result of lymphoma. In both cases, the nature of the ailment overshadows the games on the field, and we wish both men a speedy recovery.

In the land of more mundane injuries, the Red Sox had been missing their captain, Jason Varitek, since July 31, their rightfielder, Trot Nixon, since July 30, their #3 starter, Tim Wakefield, since July 17, and their #4 starter, Matt Clement, since June 15. Jonathan Papelbon, one of the rare relievers who should legitimately get Cy Young or MVP consideration fell off a bit in August (2.40 ERA, after remaining under 1.00 in every previous month) and left Friday night's game with pain in his shoulder.

So the Red Sox's engine seized up, and the Yankees stepped into vacuum, even going so far as to help the Beantowners' downward spiral. While it's a queer Story of the Month for the Yankees' season (unlike some Red Sox fans, who watch the Yankees with the hateful intensity of a cat staring down a caged parakeet, for Yankees fans it's usually about us, us, us), it does change how things go down the stretch. Again, not declaring anyone dead, but if the Red Sox and Yankees aren't nipping at each other's heels this month, the Yankees will be at greater liberty to experiment, with de facto major-league rehab assignments for Hideki Matsui and Octavio Dotel, possible first-base tryout for Gary Sheffield, if he hasn't decided to scrap this season, fun stuff like that. Liberated (for the moment) from the rat race in the AL East, here's what the Yanks should focus on in September:
  • Get (and Stay) Healthy: The Yanks don't have to rush Mike Mussina back from the DL, they can be conservative with Mariano Rivera (who's suffering an elbow strain), and they can rehab any of the currently-injured bodies they can get back on the roster, with no penalty now that rosters have expanded. Almost as important as making sure that the injured players get back to health and in game shape is ensuring that those bodies on the roster get enough rest to stay fresh for October. Randy Johnson should get some extra days between starts, Jorge Posada and Johnny Damon should see some DH time, Scott Proctor and Ron Villone should be restricted to pitching only once per day, maximum.
  • Get Alex Rodriguez Out of His Funk: Actually, Alex Rodriguez greeted September with two homers against the Twins, so maybe this is already happening. Earlier in the day, yesterday, my Brother T emailed me, noting "It's already September and Alex Rodriguez only has 27 homers?" When we talked about it today, my reaction was to flip it around. Alex Rodriguez has had a bad year, and yet he still has 27 homers, almost 100 RBI. If he finishes up strong, he still has a shot at a nice season overall. Alex's problems at the plate can be tied almost exclusively to the jump in his strikeout rate--he struck out about 18% of the time most of his career, now he's up to 22%. If the Yankees are going to make an impact into October, they need for Rodriguez to step up.
  • Sort Out the Bench: Right now, the Yankees' bench is Nick Green, Aaron Guiel, Sal Fasano, and one of Craig Wilson or Bernie Williams. But there are lots of other options in the wings--Miguel Cairo and Andy Phillips, when they come back from their injuries, Matsui and Sheffield, if they come back from their injuries. The wrong combination could easily hamstring the Yankees in a short series, so stay tuned.